15 Year Photos
When the Houston Apollos ceased operation in 1981 they left Houston without profession hockey for over 13 years. The International Hockey League (IHL) filled that void by granting Houston a franchise on January 12, 1994. The new team decided to honor Houston’s WHA franchise which lasted from 1972 to 1978 and named the new club the Houston Aeros on March 2. The WHA Aeros won back-to-back AVCO World Trophies and saw the likes of hockey legend Gordie Howe.
Terry Ruskowski, a former WHA Aero, was chosen as the team’s first head coach on April 22. After months of planning and preparations the Aeros played their first game in at Denver in a 4-3 shootout loss on October 2, 1994. The very next game, only five days later, the team returned to Houston playing their first game at The Summit. The Aeros defeated Atlanta 3-2 in a shootout in front of 15,552 fans on October 7.
Houston finished its inaugural season on April 9, 1995 with a record of 38-35-8 and make the playoffs. The Aeros were eventually eliminated in the first round by Phoenix, losing three games to one.
The Aeros hosted the IHL All-Star Game on January 13, 1996, the first of two the club has hosted. In the middle of the 1995-96 season, Dave Tippett replaced Ruskowski as the head coach while the team missed the playoffs for the first of only two times. The following season Houston reached the playoffs on a record of 44-30-8 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals before losing to Long Beach 4-1 in the series.
During the 1998-99 season the Aeros tallied 121 regular season points. The league-leading record of 54-15-13 won the Fred A. Huber Jr. Memorial Award for Houston with the best regular-season record. The Aeros went on to capture the IHL Turner Cup title on June 5, 1999, beating rival Orlando 5-3 in Game 7. During that offseason Tippett, 165-85-36 with the Aeros, was named head coach of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
Ron Low stepped in and coached Houston to a 44-29-9 record in his only season with the Aeros. Low was named the NHL’s New York Rangers head coach following the 1999-2000 season. Houston looked to Dave Barr to lead the team and finished the 2000-01 regular season with a 42-32-8 record prior to the clubs big transition.
On May 21, 2001 Houston became the primary developmental affiliate for the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League. On June 4 Houston and five other IHL franchises joined the American Hockey League (AHL) as the IHL suspended its operations.
The Aeros hired Todd McLellan, who was just 34 when the season started, who guided the team to a 39-31-10 record in their first AHL season. The club advanced to game 7 in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, losing to Manitoba on home ice.
To celebrate the heritage of hockey in Houston the Aeros retired Gordie Howe’s No. 9 jersey at the last regular season game at Compaq Center/The Summit on April 5, 2003. In only the second season in the AHL, the Aeros defeat Hamilton in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals on June 12, 2003 to win their second championship in nine years of existence. Goaltender Johan Holmqvist was named Calder Cup Most Valuable Player.
The Aeros unveiled a “new” jerseys modeled after the WHA Aeros of the 1970’s prior to the 2003-04 season. The jerseys did not retain the success of the prior season with the Aeros losing to Cincinnati 2-0 in a three-game qualifying series.
The 2003-04 season opened with two games on the road but when the team returned on October 24 they arrived the brand new Toyota Center loaded with 9,315 fans. On January 16, 2004 a total of 13,342 fans, the largest Aeros Toyota Center crowd, came to see the Aeros play San Antonio, and to welcome the newest Houston Astro, future Hall-of-Famer Roger Clemens.
After guiding the Aeros to a record of 154-111-37-18 and one championship over four seasons McLellan was hired as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Detroit Redwings. McLellan was part of the 2008 Stanley Cup-winning Redwings and was hired as the San Jose Sharks head coach during the offseason. Rob Daum became the Aeros sixth head coach earning a 77-67-16 record over two years before joining the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers as an assistant coach in the 2007 offseason.
After missing the playoffs in 2007, the only other time after 1996, Kevin Constantine stepped in and guided the Aeros in 2007-08 with a record of 45-29-2-4 reaching the playoffs for the 12th time in team history. The improvement marked the Aeros best year-to-year rebound with 32 more points than the season prior. Houston lost to Rockford 4-1 in the first round series of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Houston is 59-56 all-time in playoff games.
Throughout the 14 years of the modern Aeros each of the seven coaches has guided the Aeros to a playoff birth in their first season with the club and six earning winning records during their first year. Constantine returns for his second season to lead the Aeros during their 15th Anniversary Season.